Gratitude and Remembrance: A Veteran’s Day Story

As the 11th of November approaches, the thoughts of most Americans turn toward the three-day weekend and the excitements and stresses of the holiday season to come. We are fortunate to live in such a society, where the worry about armed conflict is completely eclipsed the comforts of pumpkin spice lattes and an anxiety about shopping lists. However, this extraordinary privilege can sometimes leave us blind to price of our comfortable existence.

War was certainly not on my mind during my sojourn in France, and it was the last thing I wanted to think about after a long day of climbing around Mont St. Michel, but nevertheless I found myself being driven through the Breton countryside toward a small piece of home in the form of the Brittany American Cemetery. A staid looking French woman and an affable gentleman, whose French was tinted by a distinct New Jersey accent and whose straight posture immediately identified him as an American Serviceman, greeted our party. They told us the remarkable story of the cemetery, how this piece of land, still surrounded by war-torn stone barns, was given to the United States by the French people in gratitude for service in the World Wars, how the United States government had paid for every widow and mother of a man interred there to visit their loved ones’ remains and how the old woman fondly remembered the American GIs coming through the village at the end of World War II with candy and chocolate for the grateful children.

To me though, the truly extraordinary aspect of the cemetery lay in the bucket of roses the woman held. She was part of an organization called Les Fleurs de la Memoire, a group of French people who ensure that each grave in the cemetery receives a flower at least once a year. She then handed us each a rose and a card with the location of a grave and asked us to go honor a soldier.

My soldier’s name was Private William Elgie. He was with the 39th Infantry 9th Division. He was from California. He died on August 7, 1944, probably during the German counter-offensive in Arvanches. That was all I knew about him. The Jersey accented veteran from earlier approached as I was putting down the flower and I told him that I was sorry I didn’t know more about the man whose grave I was decorating.

“You know about his sacrifice and you are honoring it by giving him the gift of time and remembrance. That’s the best we can do for the dead.”

He was right of course. This is often the best we can do for the dead. However, there are still many living veterans whose sacrifice deserves the same honor and regard. This Veteran’s Day, I invite you to salute our servicemen with the gift of time and remembrance.  You can choose to emulate Les Fleurs de la Memoire and leave patriotic flowers or send a more tangible gift such as a Delightful Combinations fruit and gourmet basket to a living veteran to honor their service. Veteran’s Day only comes once a year. Be sure to take some time to express your gratitude and remember.

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